WBEZ | Lake Michigan http://www.wbez.org/tags/lake-michigan Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Star light? Too Bright! http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/star-light-too-bright-112452 <p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s celestial landscape is bright and beautiful, but it&rsquo;s virtually invisible because it&rsquo;s obscured behind the orange glow that emerges from the city&rsquo;s streetlights and buildings each night. This obscured sky has hundreds of thousands of stars, dotted with bright travelling planets, crisscrossed by satellites and burning meteors. To see that sky, you need a dark sky, and in Chicago &mdash; <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/art-and-science-behind-glow-chicagos-skyline-111928" target="_blank">a city of stage-lit skyscrapers, sprawl and sodium streetlights</a> &mdash; it just doesn&rsquo;t get dark enough to see more than a handful of the brightest stars and planets.</p><p>According to Larry Ciupik, an astronomer at <a href="http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/" target="_blank">Adler Planetarium</a>, Chicago is one of the most light-polluted cities in the world. One of the many potential consequences of that is clear, he says:</p><p>As the night sky fills up with more artificial light from increasing development and glare from unshielded streetlights, more people are forgetting what darkness even looks like. Or, worse, they never experience it at all.</p><p>&ldquo;I think we gradually become used to not seeing the sky,&rdquo; Ciupik says. &ldquo;But it&rsquo;s a whole kind of primal feeling when you see a very dark sky. A black sky with thousands of stars &hellip; you can&rsquo;t duplicate [that] even inside of a planetarium. Artificial doesn&rsquo;t compare to reality.&rdquo;</p><p>That reality hit our questioner, Paula de los Angeles, between the eyes when she moved to Chicago a few years ago. Having grown up in a small town in Connecticut, she missed seeing the stars when she looked up at Chicago&rsquo;s night sky. And she asked for help finding them:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>What are the best spots in Chicago or the suburbs to stargaze?</em></p><p>To Paula, moving to Chicago not only meant she had to give up seeing stars, but also the feeling that goes along with it: She misses the part of herself that had been filled with wonder just by looking up at night.</p><p>&ldquo;You kind of have to pick when you&rsquo;re in Chicago what kind of experience you want,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s too bad we can&rsquo;t see the night sky and also be around technology and a lot of lights, too.&rdquo;</p><p>We asked astronomers and stargazers to tell us where Chicago&rsquo;s good stargazing spots are. They all told us the same thing: nowhere. Not in the city or in Chicago&rsquo;s near suburbs. But, some spots are better than others, and you&rsquo;re better off getting as far from the city as possible. Adler astronomers and members of the <a href="http://www.gadboisproductions.com/cas/" target="_blank">Chicago Astronomical Society</a> promised visiting a few of their favorites is worth your time. (Assuming there are no clouds, of course!) We&rsquo;ve listed their suggestions below, from least-worst to OK. Consider the list your invitation to catch a bustling display of stars, constellations, meteors, and galaxies you&rsquo;re denied each evening!</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://blue-marble.de/nightlights/2012" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/chicagoglow1_0.png" style="height: 336px; width: 620px;" title="Night-lights imagery by NASA's Earth Observatory shows Chicago's light pollution at night. Click to explore the map." /></a></div><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">Before you leave</span></p><p>Bad timing can break a stargazing trip, so plan for both cloudless, moonless nights. Consult <a href="http://cleardarksky.com/c/Chicagokey.html" target="_blank">this handy clear skies chart</a> for 3-day forecasts. Bring plenty of warm layers, a seat cushion or foam mat, water and snacks. Also, consider loading your phone with a neat stargazing app. (Options: Google Play store: <a href="http://wbez.is/1LrJcvo" target="_blank">http://wbez.is/1LrJcvo</a>)</p><p>*Note: Our recommended stargazing spots fall on the <a href="https://grok.lsu.edu/Article.aspx?articleId=12612" target="_blank">Bortle Scale, which measures a sky&rsquo;s darkness and light pollution</a>. In this scale, a 1 is the darkest theoretical sky, and a 10 would render stars invisible.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">In the city</span></p><p><strong>Where:</strong> Northerly Island</p><p><strong>Why:</strong> It&rsquo;s slightly east of the Loop, and that slightly cuts down the light pollution.</p><p><strong>How:</strong> Point your eyes or telescope east over Lake Michigan. The sky will be a tad darker than it would if you were facing the glow of downtown.</p><p><strong>Bortle Scale:</strong> 8-9</p><p>Other suggestions: Adler Planetarium staff and other volunteers organize stargazing meetups through their &nbsp;<a href="http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/scopes-in-the-city" target="_blank">&lsquo;Scopes in the City program</a>, where you can gaze at Chicago&rsquo;s night sky through telescopes in various places around the city. For indoor stargazing, <a href="http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/news/527t2u2qou5sp2br97mksvkjoddr1y" target="_blank">Adler&rsquo;s Doane observatory</a> has the largest telescope in Chicago. (It&rsquo;s becoming more accessible to the public<a href="http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/news/527t2u2qou5sp2br97mksvkjoddr1y" target="_blank"> as renovations are completed</a>.) The University of Chicago&rsquo;s<a href="http://astro.uchicago.edu/RAS/" target="_blank"> Ryerson Observatory</a> is another option, but call in advance.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The suburbs</span></p><p><strong>Where:</strong> <a href="http://www.openlands.org/openlands-lakeshore-preserve" target="_blank">Openlands Lakeshore Preserve</a>, Highland Park</p><p><strong>Why:</strong> It has few lights! This 77-acre nature preserve lies along the Lake Michigan shoreline, 25 miles north of Chicago. It officially closes at sunset, but the Chicago Astronomical Society sometimes gains permission to host stargazing meetups there.</p><p><strong>Bortle Scale:</strong> 6-7</p><p><strong>Where</strong>: The <a href="http://fpdcc.com/nature-centers/little-red-schoolhouse-nature-center/" target="_blank">Little Red School House</a>, Willow Springs</p><p><strong>Bortle Scale: </strong>6-7</p><p><strong>Where:</strong> <a href="http://www.cantigny.org/" target="_blank">Cantigny Park</a>, Wheaton</p><p><strong>Bortle Scale:</strong> 7</p><p>Other options: For indoor stargazing, Northwestern University&rsquo;s<a href="http://ciera.northwestern.edu/observatory.php" target="_blank"> Dearborn Observatory</a> is open to the public on Fridays.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://djlorenz.github.io/astronomy/lp2006/overlay/dark.html" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/lightpollutionmap_0.PNG" style="height: 359px; width: 620px;" title="Light pollution in the Great Lakes region. Note Chicago's whitewash of light for about 50 miles. Click the map to explore in detail. (Source: P. Cinzano, F. Falchi, University of Padova. C. D. Elvidge, NOAA National Geophysical Data Center, Boulder. Copyright Royal Astronomical Society. Reproduced from the Monthly Notices of the RAS by permission of Blackwell Science.)" /></a></div><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Beyond the suburbs</span></p><p><strong>Where:</strong> Indiana Dunes State Park</p><p><strong>Why:</strong> This park promises some of the metro region&rsquo;s darkest skies; its 21,000 &nbsp;acres of wetlands and dunes are mostly unlit, and the darkness of Lake Michigan lies just north. It&rsquo;s within an hour&rsquo;s drive of Chicago and is accessible by <a href="http://www.nictd.com/" target="_blank">public transportation</a>, too, though a commuter train trip can take twice as long as a car ride. Under the right conditions, many stars are visible and you can clearly see the hazy patch of the Milky Way above the horizon.</p><p><strong>How:</strong> The park is open until 11 p.m. To stay later, consider camping, which is possible year round. The park holds <a href="http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/files/sp-Dunes_SpecialEvents.pdf" target="_blank">special stargazing events</a>, some of which involve sleep-overs on the beach.</p><p><strong>Bortle Scale: </strong>4-5</p><p><strong>Where:</strong> <a href="http://www.dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/r2/silversp.htm" target="_blank">Silver Springs State Park</a>, Yorkville (about 90 minutes southwest of Chicago)</p><p><strong>Bortle Scale:</strong> 5</p><p><strong>Where: </strong><a href="http://www.mccdistrict.org/rccms/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Coral-Woods-Site-Map-2014.pdf" target="_blank">Coral Woods Conservation Area</a>, Marengo (about 90 minutes northwest of Chicago),</p><p><strong>Bortle Scale:</strong> 4.5-5</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Lake Michigan!</span></p><p><strong>Where: </strong>Ferries start from Milwaukee or Manitowoc, Wisconsin. From Milwaukee, catch a night ride with the <a href="http://www.lake-express.com/" target="_blank">Lake Express</a> that cuts right across Lake Michigan to Muskegon. <a href="http://www.ssbadger.com/" target="_blank">The S.S. Badger</a> departs from Manitowoc.</p><p><strong>Why: </strong>The trips can take approximately 3 &frac12; hours. About halfway through, you&rsquo;ll see the best stargazing in the area! The Milky Way is bright enough to cast shadows onto lighter objects. Some stars appear red or yellow, others blue, while others are white.</p><p><strong>How:</strong> Head to the top deck about 90 minutes into the voyage. The ferries move quickly, so be warned that the pinnacle of darkness doesn&rsquo;t last long. Bring layers because it gets windy!</p><p><strong>Bortle Scale: </strong>2-3.</p><p><em><strong>Can we suggest a sailboat?</strong></em></p><p><em>If you have a boat (or have a friend with one), you&rsquo;ll be surprised to find how many stars you can see even just 10 miles due east of the city and northern suburbs. While looking back at the view of Chicago&rsquo;s skyline could be tempting, give yourself about 15-20 minutes to gaze out into the darkness to adjust your eyes, too. Here&rsquo;s a look at our own trip, and be sure to listen to our audio story which takes place on board!</em></p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="560" id="iframe" scrolling="no" src="//flickrit.com/slideshowholder.php?height=550&amp;width=620&amp;size=medium&amp;speed=stop&amp;setId=72157656147604916&amp;caption=on&amp;credit=2&amp;theme=1&amp;thumbnails=0&amp;transition=0&amp;layoutType=fixed&amp;sort=0" width="620"></iframe></p><p><em><a href="https://twitter.com/loganjaffe" target="_blank">Logan Jaffe</a> is Curious City&#39;s multimedia producer and Jesse Dukes is Curious City&#39;s audio producer.&nbsp;</em></p></p> Wed, 22 Jul 2015 16:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/star-light-too-bright-112452 Just another bull shark story http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/just-another-bull-shark-story-112347 <p><p>It&rsquo;s the kind of &ldquo;fact&rdquo; that makes you blink and wonder if you read it correctly. The Global Shark Attack File, a listing of every documented shark attack in recent history, compiled by the non-profit Shark Research Institute, <a href="http://www.sharkattackdata.com/gsaf/attack/united_states_of_america/illinois/1955.00.00.c" target="_blank">lists a shark attack in Lake Michigan in 1955</a>. The details are thin. The name of the victim: George Lawson. The species: bull shark. Lawson was bitten on the right leg. The bite was unprovoked and non-fatal.</p><p>It sounds impossible, right? Sharks live in the oceans, and while you sometimes hear of them in brackish rivers, Lake Michigan is nearly 2,000 navigational miles from the nearest ocean. The story persists in various <a href="http://news.travel.aol.com/2010/09/22/chicago-mythbusters/" target="_blank">mythbusting columns</a>, and while most experts think the story is probably an urban legend, Chicagoans keep bringing it up. Curious City got two very similar questions, one from Adam Kovac of Chicago, and another from Hilary Winiarz of Hawthorn Woods. Winarz&rsquo;s wording summons the frustration of many Chicagoans about the ongoing lack of a satisfying answer.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Can we please get a final ruling on whether or not one young George Lawson was actually attacked by a shark, in Lake Michigan in 1955?</em></p><p>We&rsquo;d love to help Hillary, Adam, and the unsatisfied masses. The problem is, there&rsquo;s very little evidence either way. And it can be very difficult to prove that something did NOT happen. Nevertheless, we took a three-pronged approach to answering this question.</p><p>Approach 1: Find a witness or participant in the event itself.</p><p>Approach 2: Locate the original source of the story, and evaluate its reliability.</p><p>Approach 3: Examine the scientific plausibility of a mature bull shark entering Lake Michigan, surviving long enough to attack a person in 1955.</p><p>Following this trajectory, we found a few clues about the origins of the story, and learned that a shark in Lake Michigan may not be as implausible as you would think.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Approach 1: Can I get a witness?</span></p><p>The Shark Research Institute sent us the names of the two people involved in the Lake Michigan shark attack; the victim, a boy named George Lawson, and the rescuer, John Adler. We searched public records for those names (including spelling variations) in the Chicago area, and found two George Lawsons and two John Adlers who could have been the right age in 1955; the Lawsons would have been under 16 and the Adlers over 18. We called the listed phone numbers. One phone line was disconnected, and we left messages on the other three. We heard from one respondent that he was NOT the John Adler we were looking for. Nobody else returned our calls. It seems clear that if a remaining John Adler or George Lawson were involved in a shark attack, they were not interested in discussing it with Curious City. Nor does it appear that any George Lawson or John Adler has ever given an interview about the shark attack.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Approach 2: Where did this bull shark story come from anyway?</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/man eating sharks book.jpg" style="float: right; height: 328px; width: 250px;" title="The book Man-Eating sharks, which we purchased for exactly 1 cent. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe) " />The Global Shark Attack database actually does list a source as &ldquo;F. Dennis P &nbsp;52&rdquo;. After a little sleuthing, we found a <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Man-Eating-Sharks-Terrifying-Compilati/dp/0706405544/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1436195032&amp;sr=8-3&amp;keywords=man-eating+sharks" target="_blank">picture book</a> published in 1975 called Man-Eating Sharks: a Terrifying Compilation of Shark-Attacks, Shark-facts and Shark-Legend! &ldquo;F. Dennis&rdquo; refers to <a href="http://www.felixdennis.com/" target="_blank">Felix Dennis,</a> who, as it turns out, is a famous and eccentric book and magazine publisher in the UK. He is known for founding several successful magazines including Maxim, Blender, PC World, and several others.</p><p>Unfortunately, he died of cancer in 2014, but his estate kindly put Curious City in touch with one of the authors of Man-Eating Sharks, Christopher Rowley, now based in upstate New York. Rowley remembers the book quite clearly: &ldquo;Felix wanted to carve out a chunk of the enormous money flowing due to the Jaws phenomenon in 1975.&rdquo;, he says.</p><p>Of course, he means Steven Spielberg&rsquo;s mega-hit film, which sparked tremendous fascination and fear of sharks. In the midst of the Jaws craze, Dennis hired Rowley and two other writers to find out everything they could about sharks. &ldquo;When Felix wanted something like that, it was like crash diving,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Klaxons are roaring, go out and buy everything you can. It was all about being nimble and quick in those days.&rdquo;</p><p>Rowley spent five weeks at the library, reading about sharks, compiling information, and writing passages of the book. He doesn&rsquo;t remember where the story of the Lake Michigan shark attack comes from, but definitely recalls reading about bull sharks. He admits they may have made up some of the details &mdash; fast and loose fact-finding didn&rsquo;t begin with the internet age &mdash; but doesn&rsquo;t think they made up that particular story. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s too much little detail there,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;On the other hand, I can&rsquo;t remember how much invention went into it, and how much we found in the libraries.&rdquo;</p><p>So if you believe Rowley, it suggests there may be another mysterious source of the Lake Michigan shark attack, possibly in another newspaper or magazine somewhere. If so, nobody involved with Man-Eating Sharks remembers what it was. Or, it&rsquo;s possible Rowley or one of his collaborators just made up the story out of whole cloth, possibly after reading of the bull shark&rsquo;s notorious habit of swimming up freshwater rivers. Which brings us to our next approach ...</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Approach 3: So you&rsquo;re saying there&rsquo;s a chance?</span></p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/bullsharkillustration.png" style="height: 421px; width: 620px;" title="While most shark species can only survive in saltwater, bull sharks have the unusual ability to survive in freshwater, too. (Illustration from the book Man-Eating Sharks)" /></p><p>Scientists enjoy a good hypothetical situation, and several we spoke with indulged us by entertaining the possibility of a shark entering and surviving in Lake Michigan. Phil Willink, the Senior Research Scientist at the Shedd Aquarium, says the bull shark &mdash; the kind of shark named in the Global Shark Attack File &mdash; is notorious &nbsp;for entering freshwater: &ldquo;It is able to control the salt and other compounds in its blood, to maintain a balance with the water that&rsquo;s around it, and is able to move back and forth between freshwater and saltwater. So, yes, bull sharks can swim into freshwater and we think they can stay there for several years possibly.&rdquo;</p><p>Furthermore, Willink says bull sharks have been documented as far as 2,000 miles upstream in the Amazon River, a few hundred miles farther than the distance between Lake Michigan and the nearest saltwater. So it is theoretically possible for a bull shark to swim to Lake Michigan, if it could find a viable route.</p><p>One path a shark could take to Lake Michigan is the St. Lawrence seaway, entering the St. Lawrence River north of New Brunswick, Canada, and swimming through Lake Ontario, The Wellend Canal near Niagara Falls, Lake Erie, Lake Huron, and finally into Lake Michigan. Scientists agree this is probably impossible because of the great distance, the navigational obstacles, and most importantly, because the water of the Gulf of St. Lawrence &nbsp;at the entrance to the Seaway is far too cold for bull sharks. Their <a href="http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/gallery/descript/bullshark/bullshark.htm" target="_blank">northernmost range is Massachussets</a>, seven hundred miles to the south.</p><p>The more likely route, according to scientists, would be via the Mississippi River and Illinois River and Canal System. There are few obstacles to prevent a bull shark from reaching the Illinois River, and in fact, bull sharks have been occasionally spotted near St. Louis. But if you&#39;re curious what all it would take for a shark to get from the Mississippi River Delta to Lake Michigan in the first place,<a href="http://s3.amazonaws.com/uploads.knightlab.com/storymapjs/5f15087581297692d20d2c039b06eb5d/the-more-likely-but-still-unlikely-journey-of-the-shark-that-might-have-attacked-george-lawson-in-lake-michigan-in-1955/index.html" target="_blank"> we&#39;ve put together the details:</a></p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://s3.amazonaws.com/uploads.knightlab.com/storymapjs/5f15087581297692d20d2c039b06eb5d/the-more-likely-but-still-unlikely-journey-of-the-shark-that-might-have-attacked-george-lawson-in-lake-michigan-in-1955/index.html" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/the%20most%20unlikely%20png.PNG" style="height: 483px; width: 620px;" title="" /></a></div><p>If the shark did somehow manage to get through all eight locks and gates, it would face another immediate problem:The water is too cold. Bull sharks prefer water <a href="http://oceanofk.org/tag/Tagmigrate/ddisttemp.html" target="_blank">warmer than seventy degrees fahrenheit</a>, and Lake Michigan&rsquo;s water is <a href="http://coastwatch.glerl.noaa.gov/statistic/avg-sst.php?lk=m&amp;yr=0" target="_blank">only that warm during a few weeks each year</a>. That means the bull shark would have to accomplish all of this in a very short period of time, or, as Kevin Irons points out, find one of the places warm water is discharged into the lake by power plants. Neither Irons nor the Shedd Aquarium&#39;s <a href="http://www.sheddaquarium.org/Conservation--Research/Conservation-Research-Experts/Dr-Phillip-Willink/" target="_blank">Phillip Willink </a>will go so far to say a shark could never make it to Lake Michigan and survive long enough to attack a person, but both consider the odds to be outlandishly high. &nbsp;</p><p>Of course, the shark may have had help. A shark could certainly have been brought to Lake Michigan &nbsp;in a water tank on a truck, an airplane, or helicopter, perhaps in a<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dghbyBaQyI" target="_blank"> similar scenario</a> to the one faced by Batman in the 1966 film, Batman. We know this kind of thing happens, because at least two dead saltwater sharks have been found in Lake Michigan.</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/milwaukee2.png" title="One of the two known hoaxes involving sharks in Lake Michigan. (Source: Chicago Tribune, 1969) " /></div></div><p>One was later revealed as a prank, and scientists think the <a href="http://www.neatorama.com/2008/08/30/shark-found-in-lake-michigan/" target="_blank">other</a> may have been a prank, or possibly a discarded pet. Phillip Willink admits the Shedd aquarium has several sharks swimming in tanks just a few feet from the waters of Lake Michigan, but promises &ldquo;We keep them in the building at all times.&rdquo; Kevin Irons allows a baby shark could arrive in a cargo ship&rsquo;s ballast water tank, but it would most likely die in the lake. It would need to survive several years, living through the frigid winters, avoiding predation, until it was large enough to attack a child. Again, all of this is exceedingly unlikely.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">The um, shark&rsquo;s tooth in the coffin?</span></p><p>If you&rsquo;ve been anywhere near a television or national newspaper in the last few weeks, you have seen reports of shark attacks in the Carolinas. Shark attacks make the news. Editors and reporters know there&rsquo;s something fascinating and horrific about toothed death emerging from tranquil waters in a vacation spot to ruin somebody&rsquo;s week. If a shark did attack somebody in Chicago, you would expect to see it in the Chicago newspapers. You would expect anniversary stories, stories pegged to &ldquo;Shark Week&rdquo;, and &ldquo;where are they now?&rdquo; stories about Lawson and Adler. We have access to digital, searchable archives for both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Defender and neither paper carried a shark attack story. This, more than any other piece of evidence, really makes the case that the bull shark story is an urban legend</p><p>And one further point. Often, urban legends have their grounding in some true but prosaic story. Over time the details are exaggerated and enhanced into an enduring fiction. But there appears to be absolutely nothing CLOSE to the 1955 shark attack in any records. Until 1975. There are references to Lawson in the Tribune&rsquo;s &ldquo;Action Line&rdquo; column, and the earliest one: October 1975, and it references a magazine called <a href="http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/killer-sharks-jaws-death-vol-jaws-408438933" target="_blank">Killer Sharks: The Jaws of Death</a>, also published in 1975, the same year as Felix Dennis&rsquo; Man-Eating Sharks. All three verifiable references of George Lawson occur in 1975, the year of Jaws, and a year characterized by intense shark interest world wide. This cluster of references suggests a likely scenario: Somebody, possibly one of Felix Dennis&rsquo; authors, possibly the Jaws of Death publishers, possibly the publishers of another mysterious book or magazine designed to capitalize on the Jaws phenomenon; somebody just made the whole thing up to sell magazines and make a quick buck. If that fabricator would only come forward, it would save our questioners, and the city of Chicago, a great deal of frustration.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/jesse%20and%20question%20asker.jpg" style="float: left; height: 180px; width: 320px;" title="Producer Jesse Dukes, left, and questioner Hilary Winiarz. " /><span style="font-size:24px;">Our questioners</span></p><p>Adam Kovac asked his version of the question back in 2012, in the early days of the Curious City project. He was surprised and pleased when he heard we were finally tackling his question, three years (and several swimming seasons) later. We were unable to talk to him due to scheduling difficulties. Hilary Winiarz&#39;s day job is as a writer in corporate communication and a mother of a ten year old boy, Matty, who also likes sharks. In what spare time she can scrape up, she writes fiction. Perhaps, it&rsquo;s the romance novelist in her that makes her say she wants the shark story to be true: &ldquo;I would, actually. I mean he lived, so it&rsquo;s not terribly tragic.&rdquo; Still unsatisfied, she mentioned the possibility of going through hospital records to find a patient named George Lawson in 1955. &nbsp;When we suggested that may prove a wild goose chase, she wasn&rsquo;t sure: &ldquo;The jury is still out on the goose chasey-ness of this of this, but it&rsquo;s enough potential for a goose chase to say I might be spinning my wheels.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Jesse Dukes is Curious City&rsquo;s audio producer, and he knows a<a href="http://www.vqronline.org/essay/lions-deep" target="_blank"> thing</a> or two about sharks. Thanks to Emily Charnock for sharkival assistance.</em></p><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Wed, 08 Jul 2015 16:42:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/just-another-bull-shark-story-112347 A chance encounter becomes lifelong romance http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/chance-encounter-becomes-lifelong-romance-112034 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/StoryCorps-150515-Mark-Allie-Wendy-Yura-bh.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Allie Yura is getting married in June. She&#39;s the second of Wendy and Mark Yura&rsquo;s three daughters. Earlier this year Allie brought her parents to the StoryCorps booth to talk about how they met at Burnham Harbor in Chicago in the summer of 1980. The story begins as Wendy was helping her friend search for an apartment.</p><p><em>StoryCorps&rsquo; mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to share, record and preserve their stories. These excerpts, edited by WBEZ, present some of our favorites from the current visit, as well as from previous trips.</em></p></p> Fri, 15 May 2015 08:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/chance-encounter-becomes-lifelong-romance-112034 EcoMyths: Dangers of Microplastics http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-dangers-microplastics-112169 <p><p><span id="docs-internal-guid-34d00667-da74-cf3b-6a33-f532ccbde9dc">Plastic makes up 90% of the trash picked up in Trash Free Seas (TFS) ocean cleanups, according to research by Ocean Conservancy</span>. And experts says that microplastics - pieces of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters (just under a fifth of an inch) - are just as dangerous as those 2-liter bottles you might see floating in Lake Michigan or the &ldquo;Great Pacific garbage patch&rdquo;. Kate Sackman, of EcoMyths Alliance, will help us find out why these microfibers are a big hazard from Allison Schutes, manager of the TFS Program at Ocean Conservancy and Olga Lyandres, research manager at Alliance for the Great Lakes.</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/196366595&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><strong>Does Size Matter When It Comes to Plastic Pollution?</strong></p><p>&quot;Don&#39;t sweat the small stuff&quot; is a great mantra&hellip;except when you&#39;re talking about plastic pollution. Devilishly tiny plastics, a.k.a. microplastics, are adding up to one massive problem in the world&#39;s waterways - acting as a sponge for other pollutants, not to mention confusing and harming wildlife.</p><p>On this month&#39;s EcoMyths segment, we&rsquo;ll find out how and why something so small can cause such a big fuss. We brought in Olga Lyandres, research manager for the <a href="http://greatlakes.org/">Alliance for the Great Lakes</a>, and Allison Schutes, manager of the <a href="http://www.oceanconservancy.org/our-work/marine-debris/" target="_blank">Ocean Conservancy&#39;s Trash Free Seas program</a> for a tete-a-tete with Jerome McDonnell and Kate Sackman.</p><p><strong><u>Microplastics 101</u></strong></p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" height="237" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/microbeads%201.jpg" style="float: left;" title="Microbeads! (Courtesy of Alliance for the Great Lakes/Lyandres)" width="306" />First, some perspective. Before the show, Olga showed the <em>Worldview</em> team a fairly nondescript bottle of <a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/2015/02/minimyth-face-scrub-isnt-made-of-plastic/">microbeads</a>. While they may look unassuming, these types of microplastics are especially insidious, because they lurk inside so many personal care products, from face scrub to toothpaste, Olga explained.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">And when you wash the teensy plastic scrubbers off your face or spit &#39;em out with your toothpaste, down the drain they go&mdash;straight to the wastewater treatment facility, which is not equipped to remove them. So on the pearly pellets go, discharging into lakes, running down into streams, floating off into oceans&hellip;and contributing to the 10-20 billion pounds of plastics estimated to enter the world&#39;s oceans each year, according to Allison.</div><p>By the way, though they&#39;re the most hyped, microbeads aren&#39;t the only kind of microplastics, which generally are defined as any plastic measuring smaller than 5 millimeters (just under a fifth of an inch). Other types include:</p><ul><li><em>Fibers</em>: Little strands of synthetic fibers, from fishing line to cigarette filters to polyester and fleece clothing, to name a few</li><li><em>Fragments</em>: Big plastic trash doesn&rsquo;t go away&mdash;it simply breaks down into teensy, irregularly shaped plastic particles.</li><li><em>Film</em>: Thin, long pieces that may once have been food wrapping or plastic bags</li></ul><p><strong>So What? </strong></p><p>The quick rap sheet on microplastics is that once they <strong><em>get</em></strong> out into our waters, they tend to <strong><em>act</em></strong> out, to put it lightly. First, Olga explained that they basically act as sponges, adsorbing other pollutants willy-nilly and moving them around the Great Lakes or wherever they happen to float. Second, Allison pointed out that wildlife often accidentally eat them, which can directly or indirectly affect animals as varied as small fish, turtles, and even whales.</p><p>Both experts clarified that the research on the implications of microplastics is still emerging, but they&#39;ve pointed out some interesting studies. Consider:</p><ul><li><a href="http://www.csgmidwest.org/policyresearch/documents/Plastics-GLLC-20114.pdf" target="_blank">Sherri Mason&rsquo;s lab at SUNY Fredonia</a> found plastic in the guts and intestines of 18 different species, including 17 fish, and one waterbird.</li><li>Some research shows that ingesting too much plastic can result in serious digestive issues. <a href="http://ocean.si.edu/slideshow/laysan-albatrosses%E2%80%99-plastic-problem" target="_blank">Albatross chicks</a>, for instance, cannot regurgitate nor digest plastic debris they swallow, so it can fill up their stomachs such that they can no longer digest food.</li></ul><ul><li>Some <a href="http://www.bioportfolio.com/resources/pmarticle/1040530/Uptake-and-retention-of-microplastics-by-the-shore-crab-Carcinus-maenas.html">evidence</a> suggests that microplastics can make their way up the food chain, though this is still an early area of scientific inquiry.</li></ul><p>Plus&hellip;precisely because they&#39;re so small, microplastics are especially tricky and take &quot;astronomical costs&quot; to clean up, noted Allison. That&#39;s one big reason it&#39;s so important for folks to help keep plastic from entering the waste stream in the first place, whether it&#39;s by avoiding products like microbead-laden facial scrub or participating in a cleanup.</p><p><strong>Change is a&#39;comin&rsquo;</strong></p><p>But wait, there&#39;s good news! Olga and Allison are all about embracing individual impact, from swapping out plastic-studded face wash with apricot scrub to supporting legislation like <a href="http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/17/illinois-takes-a-big-stand-on-tiny-plastics/" target="_blank">Illinois</a>&#39; phase-out of the manufacture and sale of microbeads in personal care products. At least nine other states now have similar legislation on the docket, as does Ontario, Canada, added Olga.</p><p>Though the topic can be infuriating, to use Jerome&#39;s term, Allison cheered everyone up in the studio by reminding us that, &quot;We all have a part to play in the solution.&quot;</p><p>Nutshell: Small size doesn&rsquo;t mean small impact &ndash; in terms of plastic pollution, that&#39;s a bad thing. In terms of public involvement &ndash; it&#39;s great! Microplastics may be a big problem, but we can each make a difference.</p><p><strong>One Green Thing</strong></p><p>One easy way to keep plastic - big and small - out of waterways is to choose reusable instead of single-use products. Boom!</p><p><strong><em>More ways to help:</em></strong></p><ul><li><strong>Save the date for the <a href="http://www.oceanconservancy.org/our-work/international-coastal-cleanup/" target="_blank">International Coastal Cleanup</a> day on September 19, 2015</strong></li><li>Participate in Alliance for the Great Lakes&rsquo; <a href="http://www.greatlakes.org/ADOPTABEACH" target="_blank">Adopt-a-Beach program</a></li><li>Try Ocean Conservancy&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.oceanconservancy.org/our-work/international-coastal-cleanup/10-things-you-can-do.html" target="_blank">10 Things You Can Do for Trash-Free Seas</a></li><li>Ask your state legislator to support microbead bans (the Alliance has tools <a href="http://takeaction.greatlakes.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Advocacy_Home" target="_blank">here</a>)</li></ul></p> Tue, 17 Mar 2015 09:56:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-dangers-microplastics-112169 Gone Fishing: Harsh winter brings lake temps down, but not for long http://www.wbez.org/news/gone-fishing-harsh-winter-brings-lake-temps-down-not-long-110690 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Phil%20Willink%201.jpg" style="float: right; height: 400px; width: 300px;" title="Philip Willink of Shedd Aquarium (WBEZ/Lauren Chooljian)" /><a href="http://www.sheddaquarium.org/Conservation--Research/Conservation-Research-Experts/Dr-Phillip-Willink/" target="_blank">Dr. Philip Willink</a> stands at the shore of Chicago&rsquo;s 63rd Street Beach, looking out on to Lake Michigan.</p><p>&ldquo;So what do you see when you look at the lake?&rdquo;</p><p>He asks this question of anyone who joins him on his frequent trips to the shore. Willink is a senior research biologist at the Shedd Aquarium, and so he often visits the shoreline to check on the health of the lake.</p><p>&ldquo;Something I like to do is whenever I go out, I try to do as many things at once: monitoring invasive species, looking for endangered species and just sort of assessing the community on the Chicago Lakefront,&rdquo; Willink said.</p><p>And from the surface, it&rsquo;s impossible to see it all. According to Willink, at any given spot, there could be tens of thousands of fish swimming around: A little-known fact for many local swimmers. Another example: Willink said there are likely quadrillions of invasive zebra mussels and quagga mussels in Lake Michigan.</p><p>You can hear their dead shells crunch as you walk along the shore.</p><p>This year, Willink said, he&rsquo;s stumbled on a few species that he isn&rsquo;t as used to seeing, like Coho salmon, perch and bloaters&mdash;all fish that favor cooler, deeper waters.</p><p>&ldquo;When the bloater showed up it was like &lsquo;oh, okay, something&#39;s really going on,&rsquo; because I think in the past 10 years, I&rsquo;ve only caught one other bloater in a net,&rdquo; Willink said. &ldquo;So catching a half-dozen of them really meant that something different was going on.&rdquo;</p><p>On average, temperatures in Lake Michigan this summer have been much cooler than normal. According to data from the <a href="http://coastwatch.glerl.noaa.gov/webdata/cwops/html/statistic/statistic.html%20" target="_blank">National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration</a>, surface temperatures have been about 2.75 degrees Celsius below average. The managers of this data believe that&rsquo;s likely because of all the ice cover that came along last winter. The Great Lakes were at least 90 percent ice covered last winter, and that hasn&rsquo;t happened since 1994.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/avgtemps-m_1992-2013.gif" title="" /></div><p>Willink said all that cooler water encouraged fish that usually stay deep, deep down in the lake to swim up to the surface.</p><p>&ldquo;Everybody thought it was a harsh winter, and we&rsquo;d have fewer fish. I&rsquo;ve actually found more this year,&rdquo; Willink said. &ldquo;It may very well be that Great Lakes fish like harsh winters, because after all, that was a much more typical winter.</p><p>But some other fishermen aren&rsquo;t so sure of that connection.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/cpt%20rick%204.jpg" style="height: 400px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="Captain Rick Bentley, owner of Windy City Salmon Fishing Charters. (WBEZ/Lauren Chooljian)" />Captain Rick Bentley is the owner of <a href="http://www.windycitysalmon.com/" target="_blank">Windy City Salmon Fishing Charters</a>. He takes groups fishing off Waukegan Harbor in Lake Michigan, so thriving fish make for better business. And he said this spring, the Coho salmon fishing was the best he&rsquo;s ever seen.</p><p>&ldquo;It was excellent. A lot of times in April, we&rsquo;re waiting for Coho to get here. They typically mass up in schools on the way extreme south end of the lake,&rdquo; Bentley said. &ldquo;But we had them right at the beginning of April when we started fishing.&rdquo;</p><p>Bentley said he remembers all the ice cover. It covered the harbor until April 10th, which he said is unusual. But he&rsquo;s not convinced the two things are related.</p><p>&ldquo;You need to have several of those winters in a row, and we really haven&rsquo;t had a winter like that in a while,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;So whether it was due to the winter, we&rsquo;ll have to see about that.&rdquo;</p><p>According to&nbsp;<a href="http://www.lsa.umich.edu/pite/people/facultyassociates/ci.gadenmarc_ci.detail" target="_blank">Marc Gaden</a> of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Captain Rick Bentley may not get the chance to make that assessment. Gaden worked on this year&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.globalchange.gov/what-we-do/assessment" target="_blank">national climate change report</a> and he said all the research points in the opposite direction of the thermometer.</p><p>&ldquo;The downward trend is quite unmistakable since the 1970s. And so we&rsquo;ll see fewer and fewer winters where we&rsquo;ll have that significant amount of ice cover in the Great Lakes basin, that&rsquo;s clear from the trends. And the models of climate change scenarios suggest that&rsquo;s not going to change,&rdquo; Gaden said.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/m2013_2014_ice.gif" title="" /></div><p>And in the decades to come, Gaden said that could, among many other things, make the lakes &ldquo;quite an inviting place to some of the invasive species that we&rsquo;re very concerned about like Asian Carp.&rdquo; According to Gaden, that warmer water could also lead to an expansion of species like sea lamprey, quagga and zebra mussels that are already in the lake.</p><p>Back at 63rd Street Beach, Willink said on the one hand, sometimes people tend to forget that the Great Lakes are always changing and they always have been: Fish, animals and plants have survived both warm and cold years before. And, he adds, it is hard to really know how one pattern will affect the ecosystem long term.</p><p>But since this has been an unprecedented rate of change, how the fish will respond is an open question.</p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her at <a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian">@laurenchooljian</a></em></p></p> Fri, 22 Aug 2014 14:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/gone-fishing-harsh-winter-brings-lake-temps-down-not-long-110690 Great Lakes' low water levels captivate, worry artists http://www.wbez.org/news/science/great-lakes-low-water-levels-captivate-worry-artists-110672 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/SCHROEDER_WBEZ_2.jpg" title="Tim Schroeder’s pictures of the lakeshore capture the eerie effect of Lake Michigan’s receding water levels. (Tim Schroeder/TWS Photography)" /></div><p>The Great Lakes have been facing some serious challenges, from algae blooms in Lake Erie, to the loss of ice cover in Lake Superior. Water levels in lakes Michigan and Huron have been mostly below their long-term average for fifteen years. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/what-happens-if-water-lake-michigan-keeps-disappearing-104748">At the start of 2013, they hit record lows</a>, but a long winter with a lot of snow and ice has brought the lakes back up.</p><p>Michigan and Huron, which rise and fall together and have been the hardest-hit by the low water, peaked <a href="http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/data/dashboard/GLWLD.html">just around their long-term average in July</a> (although they&rsquo;re still several inches below their average for this time of year, when the water is typically highest). If the levels in Michigan-Huron stay above the overall average, it will be the first sustained rise since 1998.</p><p>WBEZ has reached out to scientists, fishermen, shippers &mdash; anyone who could shed light on what&rsquo;s happening. It turns out, some of the sharpest observers of the lake&rsquo;s wild swings the last few years are artists. We talked to a photographer and a landscape painter, both of whom look at the same lake, but don&rsquo;t necessarily see the same things.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Lewis-Pier-Photo.jpg" title="Tim Schroeder is a photographer and long-time resident of St. Joseph, Michigan. (Lewis Wallace)" /></div><p>St. Joseph, Michigan is a small town on Lake Michigan about 100 miles from Chicago, a weekend getaway spot.</p><p>At the beach on a bright day, sailboats cruise out of the St. Joseph river and onto the open water. Tim Schroeder says he comes down here all the time to take pictures, or just to observe.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve done a lot of photographs of fishermen and stuff on the pier, just the mood of the lake, the atmosphere,&rdquo; he says. Schroeder, 62, has been a <a href="http://www.twsphotography.com/">professional photographer</a> in St. Joseph for 40 years.</p><p>The lakefront is always changing, and Schroeder&rsquo;s photographs show that. They&rsquo;re kind of eerie, mystical photos featuring rocks jutting out into misty skies, the remnants of rotting piers.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/SCHROEDER_WBEZ_1.jpg" title="A photo of Lake Michigan from Tim Schroeder’s collection (Tim Schroeder/TWS Photography)" /></div><p>&ldquo;I can see things now that may not have even been visible before, old pilings, breakwaters, stuff like that,&rdquo; says Schroeder. He says the low water has revealed a lot of visually interesting things that use to be submerged.</p><p>Further north in Michigan, <a href="http://maryeandersen.com/art/">painter Mary Andersen</a> keeps a studio in Grand Rapids. Her house is full of her impressionistic, abstract paintings of the lakeshore, all pale colors and light.</p><p>She often goes back to the same spot over and over as it changes, and just like Tim Schroeder, Andersen has been watching the lake her whole life.</p><p>&ldquo;I grew up looking at it, swimming in it, traveling to the beaches,&rdquo; Andersen says.</p><p>She loves how the shoreline shifts and moves, she says. &ldquo;I find it interesting and exciting. If it was always the same, how boring.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Mary-Andersen-Pic-1.jpg" title="Painter Mary Andersen isn’t particularly worried about the water levels fluctuating. (Lindsey Smith/Michigan Radio)" /></div><p>Schroeder agrees: The constant transformation is inspiring. But back out at the lakefront, he gestures towards a stepladder that goes off the edge of the pier. It&rsquo;s the kind you climb down to get in for a swim, but we&rsquo;re still yards from the actual water and the ladder goes straight into the sand.</p><p>This change &mdash; the water receding &mdash; makes Schroeder uncomfortable.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t like seeing the lake levels lower, because I think it&rsquo;s a little unnerving,&rdquo; he says. Like a lot of folks, Schroeder&rsquo;s not exactly sure why the water tends to be lower these days.</p><p>Part of it may be man made; a shipping channel on the other side of Lake Huron has been deepened over and over to keep it passable. Most researchers agree that&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/once-steady-great-lakes-flow-altered-by-dredging-dams-and-now-warming-temperatures-217150821.html">lowered Lake Michigan and Huron by 10-18 inches</a>. In general though, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/what%E2%80%99s-causing-record-low-levels-lake-michigan-105262">lake levels fluctuate based on climate: precipitation and evaporation</a>. The record lows in 2013 were caused by a hot summer and drought, and this past winter&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/just-how-bad-chicago-winter-109637">Polar Vortex</a>, complete with loads of snow and ice, helped bring them back up.</p><p>But now some scientists are saying droughts and lack of ice cover could cause Lakes Michigan and Huron to stay low over the long run. The Council of the Great Lakes Region (CGLR) <a href="http://councilgreatlakesregion.org/projects/low-water-blues/">commissioned a study</a> of a worst-case scenario.</p><p>&ldquo;If we were to see a future, as a result of climate change where water levels in the Great Lakes region would be at their lows for an extended period of time, what would the economic impact be?&rdquo; asks Mark Fisher, CEO of the CGLR.</p><p>The report finds cargo ships would have to reduce their loads for every inch the lakes go down. There are also costs for the exposed and rotting infrastructure Schroeder likes to photograph; tourism and the region&rsquo;s indigenous communities would take a hit, and lakefront property values could also suffer.</p><p>Between now and 2030, the report estimates a potential economic loss of $9.6 billion in the U.S. and Canadian areas surrounding the Great Lakes. By 2050, it would add up to almost $19 billion across the region.</p><p>This is just one scenario, and water levels are difficult to predict beyond about 6 months out. But Fisher says many of the estimates are conservative, and regardless, we need to look at the short-term changes as part of a bigger picture.</p><p>&ldquo;The challenge with climate change is that it&rsquo;s subtle, it&rsquo;s incremental. It&rsquo;s sometimes hard to see depending on where you are in the basin,&rdquo; he says.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Mary-Andersen-Pic-2.jpg" title="Mary Andersen does most of her painting in her home in Grand Rapids, but she also spends hours at the lakeshore observing. (Lindsey Smith/Michigan Radio)" /></div><p>But not everyone is worried about all this &mdash; artist Mary Andersen knows the lake better than most, and she says last year&rsquo;s record low water didn&rsquo;t faze her. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Because I grew up along the lake, I have witnessed the fluctuation in the lake levels three times over my lifetime, from severe lows to record highs,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>In fact, she remembers extremely high water in the 1980s being destructive in its own way, causing erosion on the lakefront, and sometimes flooding low-lying areas.</p><p>Andersen says she is worried about <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/drought-drives-drilling-frenzy-groundwater-california-110483">water scarcity and drought in other places</a>, but she&rsquo;s not sure about climate change. She thinks the lake&rsquo;s changes are a natural cycle.</p><p>&ldquo;The fluctuation of the lake levels is not our fault,&rdquo; Andersen says.</p><p>When it comes to fluctuation, most scientists would agree that it is a natural cycle: <a href="http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/data/dashboard/GLWLD.html">The levels have gone from low to high every 10-25 years</a> since humans started recording it about 100 years ago. &nbsp;The concern is that climate change could mean the lows keep getting lower, and the highs never get quite as high.</p><p>But the extremes associated with climate change means it&rsquo;s difficult for scientists to predict; after all, in the middle of winter 2012-2013, no one had any idea the lake levels would <a href="http://w3.lre.usace.army.mil/hh/ForecastData/MBOGLWL-mich_hrn.pdf">rise by several feet in just over a year.</a></p><p>And, lower water levels is only a piece of what could be coming to the Great Lakes.</p><p>&ldquo;It almost feels like death by a thousand cuts to the Great Lakes region,&rdquo; says Beth Gibbons, the project manager with the Great Lakes Climate Change Assessment for Cities (GLAA-C) in Ann Arbor. &nbsp;</p><p>Gibbons is focused on adaptation and preparedness for climate change. &ldquo;We can&rsquo;t wait for a single event &mdash; sea level rise to pass &lsquo;X&rsquo; threshold, a Hurricane Sandy to come up the coast, a wildfire that&rsquo;s burning 800 acres to suddenly threaten one of our major cities. We need to be able to look at this day by day, storm by storm.&rdquo;</p><p>She says we need <a href="http://graham.umich.edu/glaac/great-lakes-atlas">to take stock of what&rsquo;s coming</a> in order to plan for more climate extremes. Most cities in the region haven&rsquo;t even estimated the costs.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/SCHROEDER_WBEZ_7.jpg" title="Photographer Tim Schroeder looks forward to a time when human activity doesn’t threaten the Great Lakes’ health. (Tim Schroeder/TWS Photography)" /></div><p>&ldquo;We can live beautiful lives, we don&rsquo;t have to mess everything up while we&rsquo;re doing it,&rdquo; says Tim Schroeder.</p><p>The photographer insists he&rsquo;s not an activist, but he wants to see all the lake&rsquo;s problems turn around. &ldquo;I mean, there has to be a way to figure out how to do this without poisoning our waterways and without ruining landscapes...I mean, there&rsquo;s just gotta be a balance.&rdquo;</p><p>Schroeder takes in the scene at the lakefront &mdash; it&rsquo;s quiet except for a few kids, and an occasional charter boat coming into the channel.</p><p>&ldquo;I look at these kids playing around on the beach, and one of those kids might be eight years old, well I&rsquo;m 62, so what&rsquo;s it gonna be like when he&rsquo;s 62?&rdquo; Schroeder ask. &ldquo;Is it gonna get to the point where we&rsquo;re using so much water for everything that these piers will basically just become a monument on sand?&rdquo;</p><p>He says he&rsquo;d love to come back to Lake Michigan with his camera in a hundred years, just to see what it looks like then.</p><p><em>Lewis Wallace is a reporter and host at WYSO, the public radio station for Ohio&rsquo;s Miami Valley region. Follow him </em><a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants"><em>@lewispants</em></a><em>.</em></p><p><em>Reporter Lindsey Smith of Michigan Radio contributed to this story.</em></p></p> Tue, 19 Aug 2014 08:09:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/science/great-lakes-low-water-levels-captivate-worry-artists-110672 Surf's up in Chicago, but where? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/surfs-chicago-where-110665 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/surfing thumb nail.png" alt="" /><p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: We published a version of this story at the the close of summer 2012, but as curiosity about surfing in Chicago never ends (right?), we recently double-checked whether park district policies described below are up to date. They are.&nbsp;</em></p><p>A couple summers ago, Cherelyn Riesmeyer took her kids to a Chicago beach. They had brought their new boogie boards along, which they&rsquo;d purchased on a family vacation a few weeks earlier.</p><p>But when they leapt into Lake Michigan with their new beach toys, Cherelyn says, a lifeguard promptly told her kids that boogie boards weren&rsquo;t allowed on Chicago beaches.</p><p>&ldquo;[My kids] starting referring to the lifeguards as <em>fun guards</em>,&rdquo; Cherelyn says.</p><p>Then, in January 2012, a local surfer was <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/charges-be-dropped-against-chicago-surfer-96500" target="_blank">arrested for illegally surfing</a> at Oak Street Beach. When Cherelyn heard the news, she says, she was in disbelief. But she also wanted answers, so she asked Curious City:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Why is surfing not allowed in Lake Michigan?</em></p><p>Turns out, surfing<em> is</em> allowed in Lake Michigan, but it wasn&rsquo;t always, and even now it&rsquo;s not allowed everywhere. In 2009, the Chicago Park District lifted its blanket ban on surfing and all &ldquo;self-propelled, wave-riding board sports.&rdquo; These include: body surfing, stand-up paddling, skim boarding and &mdash; of particular interest to our question-asker &mdash; boogie boarding. The district made the decision after local surfers and activists took a stand against the restrictions.</p><p>One of those activists was Mitch McNeil, chair of <a href="http://www.chicago.surfrider.org/#welcome" target="_blank">Chicago&rsquo;s Surfrider Foundation</a>. He recalls the park district had banned surfing and all flotation devices after a 10-year-old girl drowned off Montrose Harbor in 1988. The girl and an 11-year-old boy were on an inflatable raft when the wind blew them far offshore, according <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1988-04-07/news/8803060938_1_windsurfer-raft-lake-michigan" target="_blank">to a report in the Chicago Tribune</a>. The two apparently jumped off the raft and tried to swim back to the beach. A nearby windsurfer rescued the boy but couldn&rsquo;t find the girl.</p><p>&ldquo;The city reacted drastically [after the incident] and put an across-the-board ban on flotation devices,&rdquo; McNeil says. &ldquo;And a surfboard is nothing else if not a flotation device.&rdquo;</p><p>About two decades later, Chicago-area surfers banded together to reverse the ban, McNeil says. An agreement they worked out with the city lifted the ban on a handful of beaches, but there was an important condition: surfers would be responsible for their own safety.</p><p>So today, surfing is allowed year-round at <a href="http://www.cpdbeaches.com/beaches/Montrose-Beach/" target="_blank">Montrose </a>and <a href="http://www.cpdbeaches.com/beaches/57th-Street-Beach/" target="_blank">57th Street</a> beaches. During the off-season (Labor Day to Memorial Day), surfing&rsquo;s allowed at <a href="http://www.cpdbeaches.com/beaches/Osterman-Beach/" target="_blank">Osterman </a>and <a href="http://www.cpdbeaches.com/beaches/Rainbow-Beach/" target="_blank">Rainbow </a>beaches, too.</p><p>It may seem like a short list (consider that <a href="http://www.cpdbeaches.com/home.cfm" target="_blank">the district operates 27 public beaches</a>), but Mcneil says he and other Chicago surfers are satisfied with the compromise &mdash; at least for now. Turns out, those four beaches get some of the best waves in the city (which can get up to 30 feet high!).</p><p>&ldquo;Each beach has its own kind of wave,&rdquo; McNeil says. &ldquo;Each wave is created by the way the bottom is shaped and how the shoreline is lined up according to the wind. So, we had our hit list.&rdquo;</p><p>Also, it&rsquo;s no bummer there are more beaches to choose from in the winter.</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s actually when the best waves happen,&rdquo; McNeil says. &ldquo;You get your best waves in the fall and definitely in the winter.&rdquo;</p><p>But there&rsquo;s good news for Cherelyn, our question-asker, too. Since the park district includes boogie boarding in its definition of surfing, the same rules apply. So those &ldquo;fun guards&rdquo; her kids encountered? Well, the story could have been different at a different beach.</p><p>For specifics on Chicago&rsquo;s surfing and flotation device regulations, you can also read <a href="http://public.surfrider.org/files/Chicago_Surfing_Info_Safety.pdf" target="_blank">this 2009 memo</a> from the Chicago Park District.</p></p> Fri, 15 Aug 2014 16:45:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/surfs-chicago-where-110665 Great Lakes brace for more toxic algae http://www.wbez.org/news/great-lakes-brace-more-toxic-algae-110112 <p><p><em>Update, August 4, 2014, 11:30a.m.: Officials are scrambling to address a growing algae bloom in Lake Erie that threatens the water supply of hundreds of thousands of people in parts of Michigan and Ohio. After tests at a water treatment plant showed dangerous levels of contamination, Toledo, Ohio officials&nbsp;warned residents not to use city water early Saturday. The water ban was lifted Monday, but the algae bloom isn&#39;t expected to peak until September, potentially continuing to pollute the lake that supplies drinking water for 11 million people.&nbsp;</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s spring, and the heavy snowmelt and rain is good news for farmers and scientists who have been worried about drought the last few years. But all that water has other consequences for the Great Lakes, including runoff: rainstorms carry fertilizer from farms and lawns into streams and rivers.</p><p>Much of it eventually ends up in the lakes, and when too much accumulates it can feed huge blooms of toxic algae. The problem is especially dire in Lake Erie around Toledo, Ohio, where algal blooms in 2011 and 2013 were some of the worst on record.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve seen the lake go from where you weren&rsquo;t even supposed to go swimming in it to what it&rsquo;s like today, and the change has been phenomenal,&rdquo; says Tim Robinette, a Toledo-area resident and longtime fisherman. &ldquo;There were places that used to literally dump their waste in the river, and it used to float on down the river back in the &lsquo;50s and &lsquo;60s. And that don&rsquo;t happen anymore.&rdquo;</p><p>Lake Erie became infamous for its contamination after the <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cleveland.com%2Fscience%2Findex.ssf%2F2009%2F06%2Fcuyahoga_river_fire_40_years_a.html&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNFrwLjBkRSrEfOZxS0CiBu_HPNmSQ">Cuyahoga River caught on fire in 1969</a>; the lake&rsquo;s notoriety is credited with inspiring the passage of the federal Clean Water Act as well as the creation of Earth Day. And Lake Erie&rsquo;s comeback has been equally legendary: point source pollution from factories and sewage systems was cleaned up to a great extent by the 1990s.</p><p>In the 2000s, though, algal blooms began to reappear in the lake, bringing with them dead zones, bad smells and water that was once again risky to consume even in small amounts. In 2011, following a spring of particularly extreme rains, the algae blooms in Lake Erie grew to more than 5,000 square kilometers&mdash;three times the previous record. That got the attention of the International Joint Commission, the U.S. and Canadian body that has monitored the lakes for more than a century. They worked on <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ijc.org%2Ffiles%2Fpublications%2F2014%2520IJC%2520LEEP%2520REPORT.pdf&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNEL7GD6q-OXSzaquvJC8_DaPA47IQ">a major report</a> released this spring urging states and provinces to take immediate action to curb runoff.</p><p><strong>The green goblin</strong></p><p>&ldquo;Well, it looks kind of like green goo, you know, like thick, like pea soup-type green,&rdquo; says Carol Stepien, a biologist at the University of Toledo&rsquo;s Lake Erie Center, which overlooks the Maumee Bay.</p><p>The gooey muck she&rsquo;s talking about is blue-green algae or cyanobacteria, which, when it&rsquo;s overfed by fertilizers in the water, can grow into blooms that are dangerous to drink or even touch. In recent years cyanobacteria has poisoned multiple pets who drank from the lake, and last summer it <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.toledoblade.com%2Flocal%2F2013%2F09%2F15%2FCarroll-Township-s-scare-with-toxin-a-wake-up-call.html&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNFoUOuLh5_aFgTbMxEWSmrMHbEGTA">shut down a water treatment system in a township near Toledo</a>.</p><p>When the algae decomposes there&rsquo;s another problem: it eats up oxygen, and that creates dead zones in the lake where no fish or plants can live, an effect called hypoxia.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Copy%20of%20DSCN1768.JPG" style="height: 210px; width: 280px; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; float: right;" title="The Maumee River runs from the west through Toledo and into Lake Erie, carrying fertilizer runoff from rural and urban sources with it." /></div><p>Stepien explains that the Maumee River, a large river that runs through the middle of Toledo and into the bay, carries fertilizer runoff from up to 150 miles away. The Maumee Bay is a particularly warm, shallow part of the lake, and as runoff gathers, the algae becomes a well-fed monster.</p><p>But this isn&rsquo;t some mysterious green goblin. Stepien says the problem can be traced primarily to phosphorus, an ingredient in commercial fertilizers that&rsquo;s also found in manure, and sewer overflows from municipal water systems. The trouble is identifying and stemming the sources of the phosphorus.</p><p>&ldquo;This is water that&rsquo;s coming in from many many places, it can&rsquo;t be pinpointed to a single pipe or certain pipes,&rdquo; she says.</p><p><strong>Golf greens can&rsquo;t be brown</strong></p><p>Sources can&rsquo;t be pinpointed individually, but the potential sources are widely known. Among them are lawns and golf courses that use commercial fertilizers. Just a couple miles away from the lake, there&rsquo;s a golf course right along the river.</p><p>&ldquo;Golf courses get a bad rap for the leaching issue,&rdquo; says Tim Glorioso, the golf course manager at the Toledo Country Club. He admits people who come here don&rsquo;t want their greens to be brown, and a <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.eifg.org%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2012%2F07%2Fgolf-course-environmental-profile-nutrient-report.pdf&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNEgmkTGFSZ4oHA9FXxlx8sHFw-UGg">2009 survey of golf course managers</a> found the average golf course puts down 65 pounds of phosphorus per acre each year, and even more pounds of nitrogen.</p><p>Glorioso, though, says he uses a lot less.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Copy of DSCN1661.JPG" style="height: 201px; width: 280px; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; float: left;" title="Tim Glorioso is the director of golf course operations at the Toledo Country Club." />&ldquo;With the way budgets are right now, why would you go out and put more phosphorus down and more nitrogen than you need to? It doesn&rsquo;t make sense, economically,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Glorioso monitors the phosphorus in the soil constantly, and says he only puts on the amount the grass can absorb. Timing matters too &mdash; simple stuff like not putting down nutrients on frozen ground, or right before a storm. He attends continuing education classes during the winter months and thinks responsible management practices can lessen golf courses&rsquo; contribution to the algae problem. But he admits that not everyone is quite so diligent.</p><p>&ldquo;We have some people that probably don&rsquo;t do what they&rsquo;re supposed to do,&rdquo; he says.</p><p><strong>Some farmers resist regulation</strong></p><p>Most of the area that drains into the Maumee River isn&rsquo;t golf courses or suburban lawns: it&rsquo;s farms. There are miles and miles of them &mdash; mainly corn, wheat and soybeans &mdash; from Toledo all the way up the Maumee River and its tributaries, which extend into Indiana and Michigan.</p><p>&ldquo;We could argue back and forth about is it urban, is it yards, is it agriculture, is it municipal water systems,&rdquo; says Tadd Nicholson with the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association. &ldquo;I prefer to say it&rsquo;s all of those things.&rdquo;</p><p>Corn has been booming recently due to ethanol production, so farmers are planting to the very edges of fields, and at least some of them are laying the fertilizer down thick. But Nicholson says the corn industry is producing more corn per acre while also using less fertilizer than it did a few decades ago. In other words, corn can&rsquo;t be solely to blame for the resurgence of algal blooms. And, like Glorioso, he says education and voluntary programs to reduce runoff are as beneficial for the industry as they are for the lake.</p><p>&ldquo;If we can show farmers how to minimize phosphorus runoff, it&rsquo;s not a hard sell, it&rsquo;s something that we are very motivated to do,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>It&rsquo;s worth noting that over-applying fertilizer isn&rsquo;t against any laws in Ohio, and agriculture in particular has long been <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww2.epa.gov%2Fsites%2Fproduction%2Ffiles%2F2014-03%2Fdocuments%2Fcwa_ag_exclusions_exemptions.pdf&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNFYv09n7PPIYQ7Xb7QphYUC8zJFTA">exempted from aspects of the Clean Water Act</a>; the industry has also pushed back against water quality regulations for runoff. There&rsquo;s a <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Faglaw.osu.edu%2Fblog%2Ffri-01242014-1326%2Fohio-senate-approves-agricultural-nutrient-management-bill&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNGZUgzhOTYx7EZmczbUTnJ4dMfOqg">bill pending in the Ohio legislature</a> that would require agricultural users of fertilizer to apply for a permit. It has the support of the Ohio Farm Bureau, but not the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association. And even that law is not really a set of rules but a required educational program. In Illinois, a 2010 law restricting the use of phosphorus in fertilizer exempts farms and golf courses.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Copy%20of%20DSCN1775.JPG" title="Runoff into the Maumee River comes from diffuse sources: urban stormwater and sewer overflows, agricultural runoff, and private lawns and golf courses." /></div><p><strong>&lsquo;When you look at Lake Erie, it breaks your heart&rsquo;</strong></p><p>Cities like Chicago and Toledo are under federal order to reduce sewer runoff&nbsp; through extensive infrastructure upgrades, and manure runoff, which is also a contributor, is more tightly regulated than farms. The IJC report finds the need for more research and monitoring to establish clear best practices for reducing runoff from all sources, and the agriculture industry in particular has posited the need for more research as a reason to hold off stringent regulation.</p><p>&ldquo;We would never allow a dump truck full of manure to back up and dump into the lakes,&rdquo; says Lana Pollack, the U.S. chair for the IJC. She refutes the idea that there&rsquo;s not enough research to take action on the issue. &ldquo;The science is there, we understand the cause, we understand the effect, and we understand that no one should have a choice whether or not to harm Lake Erie or any of the other lakes.&rdquo;</p><p>Lake Erie is far from the only body of water that&rsquo;s been affected: smaller lakes throughout the region have seen algae blooms in recent years. Last year, the bay of Green Bay Wisconsin was literally green. And there may not be an algae bloom off Chicago&rsquo;s Navy Pier yet, but that&rsquo;s because <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fillinois.sierraclub.org%2Fconservation%2Fwater%2Fnutrients.pdf&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNH9Lknjq4XxrRhehMxjWLvrrn85Lw">most of Illinois&rsquo; runoff drains to the Gulf of Mexico</a>. In the past, that&rsquo;s helped create a dead zone there larger than the state of New Jersey. Smaller lakes and ponds throughout the midwest are susceptible to algal blooms during the summer months.</p><p>Climate change is also intensifying the algal blooms. Algae prefer warmer temperatures, and more intense rainstorms mean more intense runoff.</p><p>The <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ijc.org%2Ffiles%2Fpublications%2F2014%2520IJC%2520LEEP%2520REPORT.pdf&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNEL7GD6q-OXSzaquvJC8_DaPA47IQ">IJC report</a> recommends that Ontario, Canada and the states in the Lake Erie basin set new targets for reducing phosphorus runoff in Lake Erie. That could lead to more regulation on farms as well as septic system owners and urban water treatment systems.</p><p>&ldquo;One community shouldn&rsquo;t be able to decimate the resources that are so important to everyone,&rdquo; Pollack says. &ldquo;If you look at Lake Erie, it breaks your heart.&rdquo;</p><p>She also says there&rsquo;s no silver bullet, no single solution or single cause. There was <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fnews.discovery.com%2Fearth%2Fweather-extreme-events%2Fsnowfall-setting-records-in-major-cities-140405.htm&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNGXFiLMKp6e_QuEL1trGFNCQURulg">a record amount of snow and ice this year around Toledo</a>, and it&rsquo;s all been melting, running off and bringing phosphorus with it.</p><p>Back down on the Maumee river bank, cold, clear water rushes out of a broken drainage pipe and into the river. In a couple hours, it&rsquo;ll be in Lake Erie.</p><p><em><a href="http://wyso.org/people/lewis-wallace">Lewis Wallace is a reporter for WYSO</a>, the public radio station for Dayton, Springfield and Yellow Springs, Ohio.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em>Front and Center is funded by the Joyce Foundation: Improving the quality of life in the Great Lakes region and across the country.</em></p></p> Wed, 30 Apr 2014 15:48:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/great-lakes-brace-more-toxic-algae-110112 BP contains oil spill in Lake Michigan, begins cleanup http://www.wbez.org/news/bp-contains-oil-spill-lake-michigan-begins-cleanup-109914 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/puente whiting.PNG" alt="" /><p><p>WHITING, Ind. &mdash; BP says it has contained and is now cleaning up crude oil that spilled into Lake Michigan&nbsp; from its Whiting, Indiana refinery near Chicago.</p><p>The spill was detected about 4:30 Monday afternoon.</p><p>Reminiscent of the tar balls collected off the Gulf Coast after a different BP spill a few years ago, this one was confined to a shallow cove between the massive refinery and a steel mill.</p><p>BP spokesman Scott Dean said it appears the crude oil somehow seeped into the refinery&#39;s water filtration plant adjacent to the lake.</p><p>&ldquo;We were able to quickly deploy our oil spill response contractor and we&rsquo;ve seen the leak stopped yesterday and we&rsquo;ve got a containment boom in place that&rsquo;s holding the amount of oil that was released from the discharge into this cove,&rdquo; Dean said.</p><p>Dean said there have been no injuries, and cleanup activities along the 2,700 feet of affected shore line are still going on.</p><p>&ldquo;The good news is the leak stopped and we&rsquo;ve got it contained,&rdquo; Dean said.</p><p>Dean said the cold temperature of the lake and air may have actually aided in containing the oil, turning the crude oil into like a gel-like substance.</p><p>But questions remain about how the crude oil got into the lake in the first place.</p><p>BP just completed a $4 billion modernization to the 100-year-old Whiting Refinery, the largest inland refinery in the United States.</p><p>Sources helping with the cleanup estimate about a dozen barrels of crude spilled into the lake, with some containing what&rsquo;s considered sweet crude oil and some containing oil from Canada&rsquo;s tar sands region.</p><p>After discovering the discharge, BP notified the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. EPA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Representatives from the agencies were at the refinery Monday evening.</p><p>BP says it will continue to work in full cooperation with the agencies to ensure the protection of personnel, the environment and surrounding communities.</p><p>The U.S. EPA says is unaware of any other spills from the refinery.</p><p>Mike Beslow, the onsite coordinator for the EPA at the scene, said the oil spill should not affect the quality of Lake Michigan&rsquo;s drinking water.</p><p>He says it appears the oil was released from one of BP&rsquo;s separators into the lake.</p><p>Beslow says the separator is like a holding pond and normally does not have oil in it.<br />He adds that BP&rsquo;s own systems immediately detected oil that got into the water filtration plant and into the lake.</p><p>Beslow says it&rsquo;s too early to determine if any fines will be assessed against BP for the spill.</p></p> Tue, 25 Mar 2014 13:38:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/bp-contains-oil-spill-lake-michigan-begins-cleanup-109914 How much road salt ends up in Lake Michigan? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-much-road-salt-ends-lake-michigan-109814 <p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: This episode of the Curiuos City podcast includes an audio story about road salt. It begins 5 minutes, 50 seconds into the program. (Subscribe via <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/curious-city/id568409161" target="_blank">iTunes </a>or <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CuriousCityPodcast" target="_blank">Feedburner</a>!)</em></p><p>Aaron Stigger is a graphic and web designer born and raised in Oak Park. He caught Curious City&rsquo;s attention with <a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/questions/1522" target="_blank">this question</a>:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em><font><font>How does all the winter salt runoff affect Lake Michigan&#39;s water?</font></font></em></p><p><font><font>But he </font></font><em><font><font>really </font></font></em><font><font>piqued our interest after telling us the backstory.</font></font></p><p><font><font>&ldquo;On my way to work everyday I pass by this gi-normous salt pile, which is kind of plopped down on some dirt and some broken-up cement,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;That kind of got me thinking: Well, if it&rsquo;s seeping into the ground under this big, uncovered pile, what is it doing, all the salt we distribute all around the city?&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><a href="https://maps.google.com/maps?ll=41.954739%2C-87.79664800000002&amp;cbp=%2C65.45%2C%2C0%2C9.139999&amp;layer=c&amp;panoid=S-PkH0iF7NxMblex4A7Wog&amp;spn=0.18000000000000152%2C0.30000000000001953&amp;output=classic&amp;cbll=41.954739%2C-87.796648" target="_blank"><font><font>The particular mound of salt</font></font></a><font><font> that Aaron saw is in Dunning, a neighborhood on the city&rsquo;s Northwest Side. That mound&#39;s got company: Chicago stores 19 piles of salt across the city. And that&rsquo;s not counting many more spread across the suburbs and Northwest Indiana.</font></font></p><p><font><font>But is there really a wall of brine heading to the lake and, if so, should we be worried? We found out that, at least according to a few environmental standards, Lake Michigan is actually in much better shape than Stigger expected. But another waterway may have earned his concern.</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>Just how much salt are we talking about, anyway?</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>Before we get to specifics on any effects on Lake Michigan, let&rsquo;s put the amounts of road salt we use into perspective, at least when it comes to Chicago.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Since November 2009, the city has spread an average of 215,456</font></font>&nbsp;tons of salt to melt snow and ice each year, according to figures provided by The Department of Streets &amp; Sanitation:<a name="chart"></a></p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="300" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="http://cf.datawrapper.de/CbhQh/2/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="350"></iframe></div><p><font><font>That&rsquo;s counting this winter,&nbsp;</font></font><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/just-how-bad-chicago-winter-109637" target="_blank"><font><font>which has been particularly brutal</font></font></a><font><font>. As of February 28, the city already dumped more than 370,000 tons of salt on city streets &mdash; a solid 42 percent more than the next heaviest use in the previous five years.</font></font></p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/aaron%20stigger%27s%20salt%20pile.jpg" style="height: 304px; width: 525px; margin: 5px;" title="The Chicago salt pile that Oak Parker Aaron Stigger sees on his way to work. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Stigger)" /></div><p><font><font>It&rsquo;s not just a problem in Chicago. Humans move a lot of salt. A 2004 study estimated that we mobilize more than 140 teragrams &mdash; that&rsquo;s 140 billion kilograms &mdash; of chlorides every year.</font></font></p><p style="text-align: center;"><font><font><strong>Video: </strong><a href="#video">Just how big are these salt piles</a>?</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>Salt&rsquo;s destination: our streams and rivers</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>So, with some of these figures in mind, let&rsquo;s consider the effects.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Aaron Stigger&rsquo;s &ldquo;aha moment&rdquo; came about when he saw one of the city&rsquo;s salt piles while it was uncovered. It&rsquo;s a reasonable concern, given that researchers from the University of Rhode Island </font></font><a href="http://www.uri.edu/ce/wq/ww/Publications/Chlorides.pdf" target="_blank"><font><font>estimate uncovered salt piles lost about 20 percent</font></font></a><font><font> of their salt each year. Much of it ends up in nearby waterways.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Most piles are covered during the off-season, however, so salt used for deicing is the main source of urban chloride pollution. Chemists know salt as NaCl, or sodium chloride, which breaks down in water. Hence there are pollution measurements and standards for &ldquo;chlorides,&rdquo; not &ldquo;salt.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>But where&rsquo;s this runoff headed? The hydrological lay of the land is such that most salt-laden runoff in Chicago ends up in the Chicago River and other inland waterways &mdash; not Lake Michigan.</font></font></p><p><font><font>The principal reason is that </font></font><a href="http://chicagopublicradio.org/story/should-we-reverse-chicago-river-again-95661" target="_blank"><font><font>the city reversed the flow of the river more than 100 years ago</font></font></a><font><font>, so most of our runoff ends up in the waterways that feed into the Illinois River, which flows into the Mississippi and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.</font></font><a href="http://www.isws.illinois.edu/pubdoc/B/ISWSB-74.pdf" target="_blank"><font><font> A 2010 study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found</font></font></a><font><font> road salt runoff and treated wastewater from the Chicago region are the dominant sources of chlorides in the navigable sections of the Illinois River, and two major tributaries in the Chicago region. The study says that number has risen steadily since about 1960.</font></font></p><p><font><font>&ldquo;The lake doesn&rsquo;t receive very much input from stormwater from the city of Chicago,&rdquo; says Scott Twait, who works in IEPA&rsquo;s Water Quality Standards division. &ldquo;However with all the salting, all the road salt enters into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and the Cal-Sag channel, and flows downstream to the Des Plaines River. And collecting all the runoff, the chloride levels can spike in those areas and get quite high.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>In high concentrations, chlorides can be toxic to aquatic life. But it&rsquo;s hard to tell how many times salt runoff from Chicago has caused toxic levels of chlorides in inland waterways, because the Illinois Pollution Control Board doesn&rsquo;t classify those waters as &ldquo;General Use&rdquo; waterways. Those waters are subject to Illinois&rsquo; 500 mg/L water quality standard. Instead, IEPA regulates &ldquo;total dissolved solids&rdquo; in Chicago-area waterways, lumping together chlorides, sulfates and other chemicals for a single reading. Chloride levels have spiked above 1000 mg/L in some inland waterways &mdash; twice IEPA&rsquo;s standard for most of the state.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Chicago-area waterways are the only ones in the state that aren&rsquo;t regulated by General Use standards. As Twait explained, that&rsquo;s because they were so polluted when the standards were set that they earned their own benchmarks. (You can see IEPA&rsquo;s </font></font><a href="http://www.epa.state.il.us/water/tmdl/303d-list.html" target="_blank"><font><font>full list of impaired Illinois waterways here</font></font></a><font><font>.)</font></font></p><p><font><font><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Aaron%20Stigger%20by%20Kurt%20Gerber.jpg" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 220px; width: 220px;" title="Aaron Stigger asked Curious City about road salt runoff. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Stigger)" />&ldquo;Back in the 70s these were the only waters that were kind of beyond repair, as to their thinking back in the 70s, so they got kind of special standards&rdquo; Twait says. &ldquo;They really had no hope for them in the future.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>But those waters are much cleaner now. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, which handles and treats the region&rsquo;s combined runoff and sewer water, has improved its filtration methods. MWRD Spokeswoman Allison Fore &nbsp;says they&rsquo;ve adopted best practices suggested by the DuPage/Salt Creek Work Group for managing their roadways and facilities.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Twait says EPA is looking to bring Chicago-area waterways in line with the rest of the state&rsquo;s rivers and streams. If they update the water quality standards, he says, &ldquo;one of the things we know is that we&rsquo;ll have chloride issues in the winter time.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>Regulators would come up with some kind of limit for chloride in Chicago-area rivers. That could make cities think twice before spreading so much road salt. It&rsquo;s much tougher for the EPA to regulate salt from so many spread-out sources (storm drains spread out across the city and suburbs) than from, say, a factory with a fallout pipe dumping salt into the river.</font></font></p><p><font><font>So our question asker Aaron Stigger is right to worry about salt runoff, but not so much in Lake Michigan. In Chicago&rsquo;s case, it&rsquo;s our inland waterways that are in trouble.</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>Corrosive chlorides and city infrastructure</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>Before it even gets into area waterways, salt works its way through the city&rsquo;s subterranean network of pipes. That can cause problems for the city&rsquo;s Department of Water Management, which provides drinking water to Chicago and 125 suburbs. They also deliver stormwater to MWRD for treatment.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Tom Powers, the city&rsquo;s commissioner of water management, says chlorides are at such a low concentration in Lake Michigan that his department barely takes note.</font></font></p><p><font><font>&ldquo;It would require an incredible amount of road salt to affect Lake Michigan &mdash; that&rsquo;s a very robust system,&rdquo; Powers says. &ldquo;When we test [the water], it doesn&rsquo;t even appear on what we&rsquo;re testing for.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>The EPA&rsquo;s national drinking water standard for chloride is 250 mg/L, some 20 times higher than Lake Michigan&rsquo;s current concentration. Chicago&rsquo;s Dept. of Water Management, like many such agencies, adds water softeners that can include salt. But it&rsquo;s not enough to even approach the EPA limits.</font></font></p><p><font><font>But road salt can corrode the pipes that carry that water, exacerbating the stress that the winter freeze-and-thaw cycle puts on an aging network of water pipes that would stretch 4,500 miles if laid end to end. About 1,000 miles of those water pipes are 100 years old or older, Powers says. In 2009 the department had to repair 8,873 catch basins &mdash; more than twice last year&rsquo;s 3,647.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Development in urban areas makes the salt corrosion problem worse, by funneling more runoff into the system. Studies have correlated growth in chloride levels with the rate of urbanization, and even with miles of road in the vicinity of the waterway in question.</font></font></p><p><font><font>&ldquo;While we are right to be cautious in applying &lsquo;common sense&rsquo; to such things,&rdquo; says Stephen McCracken, who coordinates the Conservation Foundation&rsquo;s DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup, &ldquo;in this case the relationship seems quite straightforward with salt being applied to road surfaces, increased road density means a larger salt total applied, even at a constant application rate.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>So more development, more impervious surfaces, more runoff.</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>A saltier lake?</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>So not much of that salt ends up in Lake Michigan. But there is enough runoff to register an increase in Lake Michigan&rsquo;s chloride levels since Chicago first started spreading road salt.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Kim Biggs, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, says the current chloride levels in Lake Michigan are around 12 milligrams per liter.</font></font></p><p><font><font>That number has risen since widespread use of road salt began around 1960, according to</font></font><a href="http://www.saltinstitute.org/" target="_blank"><font><font> the Salt Institute</font></font></a><font><font>. Chloride levels in Lake Michigan rise about 0.1 mg/L each year, but they&rsquo;re still well below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency&rsquo;s 500 mg/L standard for &ldquo;General Use waters&rdquo;. Nationally, EPA&rsquo;s criteria for chloride toxicity</font></font><a href="http://www.iowadnr.gov/portals/idnr/uploads/water/standards/ws_review.pdf?amp;tabid=1302" target="_blank"><font><font> are 230 mg/L over a four day average, or an hourly average of 860 mg/L</font></font></a><font><font>. (EPA is currently reevaluating that standard, which was first set in 1988.)</font></font></p><p><font><font>If you measure chlorides in Lake Michigan in the spring, however, you pick up all that winter road ice and runoff. Since 1980, springtime average chloride levels have risen almost 50 percent:</font></font></p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/epa data salt.png" title="" /></div><p><br /><font><font>High chloride levels choke aquatic species that depend on a certain salinity to keep their bodies in equilibrium. Amphibians, like salamanders and frogs, are especially susceptible to chloride pollution. Many of them breed in temporary </font></font><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/93733769@N03/9396817314/" target="_blank"><font><font>vernal pools</font></font></a><font><font> that are cut off from other bodies water, and thus have no way to flush out excess salt.</font></font></p><p><font><font>IEPA&rsquo;s Biggs says chlorides in Lake Michigan aren&rsquo;t threatening aquatic life. &ldquo;There are not significant concerns or actions being taken to reduce chlorides in Lake Michigan as they are still reading below the water quality standard,&rdquo; she wrote in an email. &ldquo;We do not feel that salt runoff from the Chicago area is a major contributor to the chloride levels in Lake Michigan.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>Winter deicing is the major driver of high chloride levels in Chicago&rsquo;s waterways, but wastewater treatment also contributes. In the outfall of waste water treatment plants in DuPage County, for example, chloride levels are more than ten times higher than they are in Lake Michigan. Studies by the Illinois State Water Survey and MWRD sampled the water flowing out from MWRD&rsquo;s Stickney wastewater treatment (the largest such plant in the U.S.), and found median chloride levels of 145 mg/L, compared to 8-12 mg/L in Lake Michigan.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Most of MWRD&rsquo;s contribution comes from human waste itself, which contains chlorides. They also use ferric chloride to help filter wastewater &mdash; the chemical is useful for, among other eyebrow-raising processes, &ldquo;sludge thickening&rdquo; &mdash; but are moving away from that in favor of biologically-based techniques that would replace ferric chloride.</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>If you can&rsquo;t beet &rsquo;em ...</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>So what&rsquo;s the city doing to cut back on its salt use?</font></font></p><p><font><font>Dept. of Streets &amp; Sanitation spokeswoman Molly Poppe says they train salt truck drivers to spread salt judiciously &mdash; that means waiting until plows have cleared most standing snow, since salt sprinkled on top of several inches of the white stuff won&rsquo;t do much. When the forecast calls for mild temperatures, salt trucks take it easy and let the weather do some of the work.<a name="video"></a></font></font></p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="323" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/WphGL9fjbbo" width="575"></iframe></p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>City workers move salt at the depot at Grand and Rockwell (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)</em></p><p><font><font>The city even enlists an unusual fruit cocktail of sorts to get more out of its salt: beet juice. It&rsquo;s full of sugar, and helps lowers the freezing point of ice. Mixing salt with molasses or another sugary substance can do the same thing. Salt solutions are good too, because they spread out easier than rock salt so they&rsquo;re more efficient. Wisconsin has started spraying cheese brine for similar reasons.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Typical salt (sodium chloride) is not effective in subzero temperatures, but other salt compounds can break ice crystals at lower temperatures &mdash; calcium chloride and magnesium chloride are common substitutes, but they eat into concrete and metal faster than table salt. Right now the city uses sodium chloride.</font></font></p><p><font><font>So Aaron Stigger&rsquo;s salt pile is probably going to exist as long as severe winter weather visits Chicago. But if IEPA ups the standard for the metropolitan area&rsquo;s inland waterways, he might start to see the salt disappear a little bit more gradually.</font></font></p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/"><font><font>Chris Bentley</font></font></a><font><font> is a reporter for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City and a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter at</font></font><a href="http://twitter.com/cementley" target="_blank"><font><font> @Cementley</font></font></a><font><font>.</font></font></em></p></p> Wed, 05 Mar 2014 13:45:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-much-road-salt-ends-lake-michigan-109814